Wednesday, 6 August 2008

the value of practitioner-researchers

Reviewing Jobling and Crowley's Graphic Design: Reproduction & Representation Since 1800 (1996), Victor Margolin ends with this criticism:
They are too ready to sacrifice design at the altar of an all-consuming capitalism, unlike Twyman, Meggs, and Hollis, who, as practitioners, convey in their writings a passion for graphic communication that is missing here. There is no reason why we can’t have critical analysis and a passionate engagement with the material. But that is another project.
This sounds like an argument for practice led research to me.

2 comments:

Susan said...

Hi Zoe, I hope your research is going well and you're not being attacked by too many cases of procrastination! I was reading a book today ("The Illustrated Book: Its Art and Craft", Diana Klemin) and it reminded me of the illustrator/designer W.A. Dwiggins. People have described him as, "America’s one truly modern typographer, and by far her most outstanding book decorator and calligrapher; a mechanical wizard, type designer, and specialist in advertising layout; an illustrator, mural painter, costume designer, and sculptor, a playwright, satirist, and perhaps beyond ever the best of his art – a thinker and poet in prose.”

I found the description 'book decorator' interesting. When you are analyising your typo/graphic novels, do you separate novels that feature pieces by the author (ie Douglas Coupland) to novels that contain commissioned work (ie H.G. Wells)? I ask because I'm curious to see if you have thought about this in your reaseach :)

Zoe said...

Hi Susan,
The Klemin book is great, I've borrowed it about four times (on my wish list for when I get a 'real' job and can buy expensive books again.

'Book decorator' is an interesting description, and I'm not sure I'm entirely in favour of it. The issue is the perception of 'decoration' as being superfluous and unnecessary, I suppose a hangover from modernism. I think you could argue that some design elements are simply decorative, but I'm really interested in how they perform a literary or rhetorical function: how does the choice of typeface affect our interpretation of a text? How do illustrations add to or expand the written text? etc. The issue of who has generated the typo/graphic elements is absolutely central to my research. When I began, I thought perhaps what I was looking at was a new space opening up in practice for book designers to 'participate' more actively in the generation of content - perhaps a collaboration between designer and writer. VAS: An Opera in Flatland is an example of this. However, I quickly realised it is not about collaboration, but about writers who are working in a more 'designerly' way - either by producing these elements themselves, or by commissioning others to do them. Either way, it is the author who is playing the role of the designer in creating a need for typo/graphic devices within their stories. Some of the most interesting examples I've found are from writers who have some background in graphic design or visual arts: Dave Eggers, Jonathan Safran Foer, Steven Hall. I think there is a greater understanding of how typo/graphic communication works, and whether this means more writers learning how to use these techniques themselves, or recognising a need for them and commissioning others to make the work (which is essentially art direction), we're seeing a shift in what "writing" is.

The question of

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